After failing multiple times to repeal Obamacare and then vowing to work with Democrats on a compromise, Senate Republicans sneaked up on foes in recent days with an effort that would overturn the 44th president's Affordable Care Act while stripping billions of health care dollars from so-called "blue" states like California.
"It's intentional," says Anthony Wright, director of the advocacy group Health Access California. "They're seeking to cut California disproportionately. By the end of the month we could have health care Armageddon."
The nonprofit has been targeting California's 14 members of Congress who voted in favor of the last Obamacare repeal attempt. Earlier this week it organized a demonstration outside the Santa Clarita office of U.S. Rep. Steve Knight. A similar event took place outside the Irvine office of U.S. Rep. Mimi Walters. U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa of Vista is also a target.
"The Senate has gone through many versions of a health care replacement over the past few months," Knight responded via email. "I will continue to closely monitor the Senate’s actions and proposals. If the Senate passes something, then the House will do its part in reviewing the legislation."
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the latest repeal, known as Graham-Cassidy for its main authors, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy, could eventually strip $27.8 billion from public health care spending in the Golden State in just one year. California's losses would represent 35 percent of the bill's total cuts nationwide. The UC Berkeley Labor Center estimates that the proposal would ultimately strip coverage or health care from about 6.7 million Californians. In L.A. alone nearly 2 million would lose health care, according to the school.
California already receives less in federal expenditures than it pays in taxes to the government in Washington, D.C., according to multiple analysis.
"The bill would strip health care from least 5 million Californians, undermine key protections for those with pre-existing conditions and force consumers to pay more for their health care while getting less coverage," according to a statement from Health Access California.
Experts have described the legislation as a redistribution scheme that would send cash used to fund Obamacare to Republican-leaning states whose senators the bill needs for support. "It redistributes money from key states, including California, to lessen the cuts to other states," Wright of Health Access California says.
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, a supporter of the language, recently described it to Breitbart News this way: "What you can do is redistribute this money that has been heaped upon these four ultra-blue, very wealthy states," he said. "If California simply wants to expand Medicaid with this money, good luck. They’re going to have to cut their program dramatically because they don’t have the money with what they’re funding now."
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Republicans have made repealing Obamacare a central tenet of their platform for the last few years. President Trump made its demise a promise of his campaign. On Twitter, Trump called Graham-Cassidy "a great bill." Yet Wright of Health Access California argues that any congressional support in California would be self-destructive.
"It's incumbent upon our California members to stand up for California and put their constituents over their party," he says. "It would be a no-brainer to oppose a bill specifically designed to harm their state and their constituents."
If the Senate passes Graham-Cassidy next week, the House could approve the measure within days, Wright says. Experts indicate it will be another nail-biter in the Senate, with a one- or two-vote margin possible. Still, Wright wants to hold local U.S. representatives accountable no matter what happens.
"If even some of those Republican members of Congress in California release a statement saying they're opposed, it could turn the tide against this bill," Wright argues.